Friday, January 31, 2014

Two Eyes: David Robson

In the San Francisco Bay Area, moviegoing is not just for the newest releases. In 2013 there were more theatrical opportunities to see films spanning the history of cinema than any one person could take advantage of. Therefore, I've asked a sampling of local moviegoers to select a few favorites seen in cinemas last year. An index of participants is found here.  

The following list comes from David Robson, who blogs at House of Sparrows,

Noir City. The Hitchcock 9. The Silent Film Festival. All three of these were great events to hit San Francisco, but if they're the only rep offerings you took in last year, you're part of the problem. Venues continue to struggle year 'round, and desperately need and deserve both your moviegoing dollars and your eyes. Since the three events above are covered elsewhere in Two Eyes '13, I'm going to skip them entirely. Not just because more than enough people will be sounding off on them, but because, frankly, removing them from consideration allows me to fit in more of the great stuff I saw outside them last year. SUCH AS:

--I'm resolving to get to the Stanford Theatre more this year - I worry that their recent reduction of days of operation and focus on name talent and classics is a kind of belt-tightening, and grow concerned for their future. Hard as it is to get down there for programs, I'm delighted by the few things I did see there. The highlight: Tower Of London, basically Richard III from the makers of Son of Frankenstein. An A-list historical period piece that moved like a B-horror. Wonderful!

--A couple of intriguing series of experimental Japanese films from the 60s and 70s made the rounds earlier in the year. Between them they offered a nice little retrospective of filmmaker/theatre director/provocateur Shuji Terayama. I was delighted to finally get a look at his feature Cache Cache Pastoral, a gorgeous and psychologically penetrating work that ranks among his most personal, laying out his mother issues alongside some truly stunning imagery.

--The attention on Hitchcock's silents prompted a lot of Hitchcock programming all over the Bay Area. I'm grateful to PFA for going all the way to the UK to summon a print of Under Capricorn, Hitchcock's stylized but little seen melodrama. Rope, with it's long takes and single setting, is now regarded as one of Hitchcock's boldest experiments, but Under Capricorn built on those experiments, interlacing Rope's technical feats with Rebecca's Gothic horror with still other elements quite unique to this picture. It's not an overt exercise in suspense; even in that pre-auteur era, people who praised Hitchcock as a great director found Under Capricorn a little too weird. Would that it enjoyed the attention and reappraisal given the Hitchcock 9.

--A rare, maybe even totally unheard-of afternoon screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show allowed its audience, if they were interested, to assess the joy, the multi-levelled queerness, the references to older horror movies, and the earnest plea for individualistic expression mostly absent of the crowd participation and other antics for which screenings of the movie have become known. The hosts of the movie may have been disappointed by the relative silence of the audience. Perhaps simply watching the movie is a more novel means of accessing its radicalism.

--Most people contributing to IOHTE (and I gather many of you reading it) have probably compared seeing movies at the Castro to attending church. This comparison was strongly in mind at a Sunday afternoon, one-off screening of Michael Mann's Heat. The cool, meticulous, blue-lit cop-and-crooks story isn't epic in scope, necessarily, but on this lovely and grey afternoon it became all things to all of us in attendance. (Coincidentally, that evening in Los Angeles a rare 35mm print of Mann's The Keep screened for what I'm told was a similarly faithful audience at Cinefamily.)

--A small Brian DePalma series (built around screenings of Passion, his latest) offered a welcome chance to see Femme Fatale in 35mm. I wrote that it was funny how in this film, after breaking from Hollywood and enjoying the freedom of foreign financing, DePalma had made a movie as graceful and elegant as Hollywood movies used to be. The opening heist scene is some of the most joyous, rapturous filmmaking I've ever seen - some people who'd seen the late afternoon screening before Passion stuck around to watch that sequence again.

--KROB took over the Castro for a day and showed, in reverse chronological order, Jonathan Demme's concert documentaries. I'd been long curious about Storefront Hitchcock, Demme's intimate film capturing Robyn Hitchcock performing live in a tiny Greenwich Village furniture store. It turned out to be an ideal introduction to Hitchcock's angular, idiosyncratic music, and is every bit as dynamic a music movie as Demme's more expansive Talking Heads concert film Stop Making Sense. (Indeed, Storefront resembled a feature-length iteration of Sense's sparer first ten minutes.) I left the screening shaken, elated, knocked out, and disappointed that there were maybe ten other people in the Castro who saw it.

--A pre-Halloween screening of An American Werewolf In London, a movie I'd enjoyed for decades on video without ever seeing theatrically, broke it wide open. The spooky opening scenes on England's fog-shrouded moors honor the atmospherics of the movie's classic forerunners, and the much-lauded transformation scene make the most of then-current technology (as does, in a subtler way, the intense Steadicam chase scene through the Tottenham Court Road tube station). Making the film for Universal, John Landis clearly understood what making a Universal horror film meant, and his movie both honors that tradition and extends it into a new generation.

--Having assumed that the work of Rainer Werner Fassbinder was of a piece with a misanthropic, miserablist tradition in recent filmmaking I approached the films in a recent, multi-venue retrospective with some trepidation. And yet I quickly figured out that his movies were leavened with a deep compassion that seems to escape contemporary filmmakers, who seem bent on making their audiences as miserable as their characters. Just as thrilling is Fassbinder's often theatrical mise-en-scene, which gives us some Brechtian distance to consider the plight of his protagonists while at the same time keeping us emotionally involved with them. I wish I'd seen more of them, and hesitate to put any of the movies I saw in the series over the others, so I'll name the brutal but (that word again) compassionate Martha as simply the series' most pleasant surprise.

--My second 35mm screening of Rumble Fish left me torn between thinking it was simply one of my favorite films and thinking it's one of the greatest films.

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